Friday, October 4, 2013

Mtuzi wa Samaki (East African Fish Curry)

One of the greatest things about having a hobby or interest around cooking is that there are always new opportunities to learn about ingredients, recipes, cuisines and even whole cultures.  This particular recipe -- Mtuzi wa Samaki or East African Fish Curry -- provided such an opportunity for all three.

The combination of "East African" and "curry" would seem out of place.  For many people, curries are dishes one would find in South Asia or Southeastern Asia. Think Pakistan, India or Thailand, for example.  Yet, it is the Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshi and others who took those dishes with them when they emigrated to other countries, including those in Eastern Africa that line the Indian Ocean, like Tanzania.

In particular, there is the small island of Zanzibar, which is home to a minority of Indians who brought their cuisine with them.   Mtuzi wa Samaki is an Indian-style curry that first emerged on the island and, later, made its ways into kitchens and restaurants on the mainland of both Tanzania and Kenya.  The dish is made with white fish and coconut milk, along with garam masala, which underscores the Indian influence in the recipe.  

This leads to the the ingredients themselves, namely the fish.  The recipe that I found simply called for fish fillets.  In theory, any fish would seem to be okay.  In reality, that is not the case.  The recipe calls for the "searing" of the fish -- the use of high heat and a hot pan to create a form of "crust" on the fish.  There are many fish that are not suitable for searing, because the high heat will just basically cook the fish and cause it to flake and break.  Therefore, when a recipe calls for searing a fish, one must look for a firm fleshed, or "meaty" fish.  I found a fish that is perfect for the recipe ... Plaice. 

Plaice is a flatfish, akin to flounder or fluke, which can be found from the Barents Sea to the Mediterranean ocean, as well as the northern Atlantic Ocean.  It is a very popular fish, particularly in European cuisines, which subjects it to the threat of overfishing.   Recent efforts to manage the populations of plaice, both in the United States (where is it also known as "dab") and in Europe have made the fish somewhat more sustainable, even getting "A Good Alternative" designation by Seafood Watch.

This marks the first time that I have ever cooked with plaice (although I have cooked with flounder many times before).  I was able to find thick pieces of plaice at my local grocery store, which were perfect for searing ... getting just enough of a crust without being cooked all the way through at the initial stages of the cooking process. This allowed for the fish to finish the cooking process while in the pan with the curry.  If you cannot find plaice in the store, look for any other firm fleshed fish, such as bluefish, rockfish (striped bass), or even monkfish.  Just make sure that those fish are sustainable.  You can always check Seafood Watch to verify the sustainability of any particular fish, along with most other seafood.

Recipe from Whats4Eats
Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons of oil
2 to 2 1/2 pounds of fish fillets (such as plaice or bluefish)
1 onion, chopped or sliced
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped or sliced
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 cups of coconut milk
2-3 teaspoons of garam masala
1-2 tablespoons of tamarind paste or lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste.

1.  Sear the fish.  Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large skillet or pot.  Season the fish with salt and pepper.  Sear the fish fillets on both sides and remove to a plate.  Do not cook through.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  Lower the heat to medium and add the onions and peppers.  Saute until the onion is translucent.  Add the garlic and saute for 1 to 2 minutes more.  

3.  Continue making the curry.  Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, garam masala, tamarind paste or lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the fish fillets, cover and continue to simmer until the fish is cooked through, about another 5 to 10 minutes. 

4.  Finish the dish.  Serve the curry with rice, boiled potatoes, or boiled cassava.

This is a great recipe, that is very simple to make.  I have already made it a couple times and it is being added to my shortlist of recipes to make on a busy evening. 


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